Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Today's Progress

Got the locks changed on three doors and a sliding glass door (never saw one of those with a key lock in it before). Now the deadbolts and knobs use the same key, which is nice. That cost $150 and included 5 keys.

The new cabinet guy came out and looked at what needs to be done. He basically said the cabinets that are there look like they were made with leftover pieces in someone's garage. It looks like we have all the doors and boxes, but the bad news is there is no countertop, so that will need to be ordered and he said those are taking about three weeks. I also need a drawer and end pieces. He pointed out some bad work - the cabinets are a bit short in one place, so they don't come even with the tile on the floor - there's about a quarter inch gap. Similar situation with some upper cabinets. The space left for the refrigerator seems a bit too large and the gap between the stove and cabinets on either side is too big. He also said he's never seen corner cabinets like the guy made (and that are already hung). He wasn't sure what the guy was doing. Anyway, he took measurements and said it'll take a day or two to figure out what all needs to be done to finish the job off. I feel much better working with this guy. And he is licensed :-)

On a side note, the other cabinet doors were inside some of the cabinets. I don't remember seeing them there before, so maybe Joe dropped those off at some point.

And I discovered that the last storm we had apparently damaged the tree in front of the house. Luckily, it didn't fall on the house, but now I'll need to get that taken care of before it's sold.

Free Trailer!

If anyone wants a free trailer, leave a comment here and I'll email you details. Here's the ad I posted to craigslist:

A contractor I was using to do some rehab work has fled, taking my money and leaving the job unfinished. He also left a trailer behind. I have been unable to contact him for a month and the city's abandoned property department tells me the trailer is mine to do what I want with. So, I'm giving it away! My only stipulation is that you also take away the trash that is loaded on it - mainly old kitchen cabinets and two toilets. The trailer is approximately 6 feet wide by 10 feet long. It has two axles but there are only wheels on one. The tires are inflated. I don't know if the tail lights work. It's a bit rusty, but seems to be in good shape. Email me for details on picking it up.

UPDATE 6/30/05: The trailer is no longer available.

Monday, June 27, 2005

House Update

I've not heard anything back from Joe regarding my fax, so I swung by the house today at lunch. Nothing has changed. The trailer is still there and the inside is the same. Now, technically, he still has about 3.5 hours to comply with my fax, but I think it's safe to assume he's not going to.

I changed the combination to the lockbox and was surprised to see the keys that were supposed to be inside were not there. Every time I've gone to the house in the past, I've used my set of keys, so I haven't opened the lockbox in probably 2 months. Who knows how long they've been missing. I'm assuming Joe has them, so I called a locksmith today and he's coming out tomorrow afternoon to re-key all the locks.

I also took a picture of the license plate of the trailer to try to track down the owner. It's unclear to me if it's actually Joe's trailer or the trailer of Joe's previous employer. (I trust Joe so little, I'm not even sure he had a previous employer and he's not just working for himself and feeding me b.s.) But, I figure there could be legal issues if I just tow it off myself somewhere, so I did some research and the city has a number you can call to report abandoned vehicles on private property, so I'll call them and see what they can do.

I filed a complaint with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors against Joe today for contracting without a license. I could even do it online! How convenient!

I have to call the new cabinet guy tomorrow morning to set up a meeting with him. Hopefully, that can happen at the same time I'll be out there with the locksmith.

Weeds are invading the property, thanks to some rain we've had recently, and I'll need to get those cleared away before I put it up for sale. I'm going to wait for that though, until everything inside has been finished and I'm sure the place is ready to go on the market.

I also got a call from my handyman asking if I got his invoice for the toilets and flooring. I haven't gotten it, so he's re-faxing it, but I also mentioned he still hadn't finished the flooring in the hall closet, so he said he'd do that this afternoon.

On an interesting note, I've just discovered that a friend I went to elementary and high school with has become an actor and is appearing on HBO's Entourage. Check out picture 5 for episode 12 here and another picture here. Funny.. he was going to be a music major, but he did know about every Academy Award question that came up during our high school's trivia contests, so I guess it's natural he headed that direction... Super smart guy too.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hard Money Lending Results

Today I received the payoff of the hard money loan I made back in April. All in all, it was a pretty good experience. To recap, I loaned $1,200 at 18% interest for 3 months with a $200 loan origination fee and 10 points. The loan was paid off about one half month early, although I still received interest for the full last month.

The borrower had to make a total of three interest payments, plus the payoff payment. Unfortunately, two of the interest payments were late. The first was only about 3 days late, which wasn't a big deal. Because that payment was late, I sent a reminder email a week before the next payment was due. I got a reply back saying the loan would likely be paid off early and to expect a check shortly. The due date came and went and I didn't get a check, so when the payment was 5 days late, I sent another email stating the loan was in default. I got no response. When it was 10 days late, I sent another email saying I was starting foreclosure proceedings. Once again, I received no response. Yesterday (12 days past due), I had just selected a law firm specializing in collections and was about to contact them, when I received an email saying the final interest payment and payoff amount was being sent to me overnight. I received the checks today and the loan is now paid in full. As an added bonus, the borrower voluntarily enclosed an additional month's interest because the payment was late.

So there was a little bit of a hassle, but all in all, it was a fairly good experience. Here are the final numbers:

Loan Amount


Loan Length

76 days

Interest Received


Origination Fee Received


Points Received


Total Received


Total Return (ROI)


Annualized Return


Thursday, June 23, 2005

End Of The Line

I went to the property this afternoon at lunch and discovered nothing has been done since I was there Tuesday morning. I've been leaving voicemails for Joe all day yesterday and again today and he has not called me back. This afternoon, I sent the following fax to him:


This is to inform you that your contract to install cabinets at xxx Avenue in Glendale is terminated. You are to comply with the following terms no later than 3 PM, Monday, June 27, 2005:

  • Either: A) Refund my entire payment of $2,068.00 in certified funds or B) deliver all materials in your possession relating to my job to the property. This includes all cabinet doors, countertops, cabinets, and sinks. You have informed me on several occasions that you have all these materials in your possession and I expect all of them to be delivered to be in compliance with this document.
  • Remove the trailer and the trash that is loaded on it from the property.

Failure to complete these actions by Monday at 3 PM will result in me taking the following actions:

  • The trailer and loaded trash will be removed by myself. The trailer will not be returned to you.
  • Home Depot will be notified that, while acting as their subcontractor and installing the stove exhaust hood I purchase from them, you solicited a side job from me to install cabinets in the property, thus depriving them of income.
  • The Arizona Registrar of Contractors will be notified that you are contracting without a license. As I am sure you are aware, anyone bidding or performing construction or rehab work totaling more than $750 is required by law to be licensed with the Registrar Of Contractors. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and / or 6 months in jail. I assure you I will cooperate with their investigation to the fullest.

    On a final note, you are no longer authorized to enter the property at xxx Avenue in Glendale without me. In order to comply with the above requests, you are to contact me and arrange a time that is convenient for me to travel to the property so that you may accomplish these tasks. I should like to remind you that, pursuant to Arizona law, unlicensed contractors lose the ability to sue to recover for the cost of work performed. Additionally, you may be required to pay back any compensation received for work that was performed without a license.

I called another cabinet installer today and set up a meeting for Tuesday. The reason for option B above is that the new cabinet guy confirmed what Joe has said - that there are about 3 companies in the valley that make cabinet doors and right now it's taking about 2 to 3 weeks to get them made. If I can get the ones Joe says he has, that will save some time. The cabinet guy I spoke with today was actually very helpful and he recommended the steps I can take to report this guy. He said it was unlikely I'd get my money back, but at least I can get this guy in trouble so he hopefully can't do this again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Seeing Progress

I stopped by the property again this morning. It's still not finished, but there were signs of progress. The two upper kitchen cabinets that go in the corners of the room were mounted. (No doors were installed on them though.) The other cabinets were not mounted, but they were sitting on the kitchen floor, ready to be hung. The bathroom vanities were still not there. Small progress, but I'll take it!

My handyman has not finished the flooring in the closet yet either.

Non-Real Estate Related Reading

In a comment on my last post, I mentioned I tried to take a Zen-like approach to problems and Trish asked for suggestions on adopting that approach. In actuality, I take more of a Taoist-like approach, but people are more familiar with Zen than Taoism, so that's the phrase I usually use. (FYI, "Tao" is pronounced "dao".)

Like, I think, many Americans of my generation, I was raised in one religion but have looked to others as I've matured and have ended up with sort of a hodge-podge of beliefs taken from various belief systems. Sort of a religion a la carte. This would probably be anathema to my parents or older generations, but it seems to work for me. Technically, I am Roman Catholic, although the direction the Church has taken the last several years has moved further and further away from my beliefs. I also am strongly drawn to Asian philosophies, mainly Taoism. Zen Buddhism has attractions, but I dislike it's use of koans (puzzles or contradictions) to attain enlightenment. Taoism basically tells you to go with the natural flow of things. There's more to it than that, of course, but if I had to sum it up, that's how I'd describe it. I also had the honor of working for a couple years with a jazz drummer turned software programmer who was a Buddhist. I have never met a more calm, centered, peaceful individual than him. He has been an inspiration to me, not only in programming methodology, but in behavior.

One of my favorite books on the subject is The Tao Of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. This gives a great explanation of Taoism by showing how Winnie The Pooh embodies the principles of Taoism.

The following are small books that I tend to leave in the bathroom for perusal there:

Buddha's Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield. Buddhist sayings with some nice Asian artwork. It also contains 8 mediations for those just encountering Buddhism to try.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, translated by John C. H. Wu. These are the actual 81 teachings of Lao Tzu upon which Taoism is based.

The Little Zen Companion by David Schiller. A collection of Zen sayings and stories from all sorts of people, whether they are Buddhist or not. Quotes from John Lennon, Tao Teh Ching, T. S. Eliot, Yogi Berra, and others.

And, on a lighter note, for a fun movie, check out The Tao Of Steve.

As a simple Zen exercise, try this: when you get upset, imagine those who are upsetting you are enlightened instructors trying to teach you perfect patience.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Nothing Fazes Me Anymore

So this morning, I headed out to the house to check out the new cabinets that were supposed to be finished over the weekend. At 6:10 AM, just as I'm putting my car in Park in front of the house, my cell phone rings. It's Joe. I told him I was just arriving at the house and he said "Just turn around, you'll be disappointed." He claims he couldn't get anyone to work on Father's Day, so nothing was done. But he said he hired some new people and would be there within an hour to install everything. He also said the plumber was scheduled to arrive between 3 and 4 this afternoon to re-connect all the pipes.

And on Friday, when I called my handyman to ask what I owed him for replacing the toilets and flooring, he told me he forgot that he had to finish putting flooring in one closet. He ran out of tiles, so he's got to buy some, then go back and put them in the hall closet. He'll send me the receipts and an invoice when he's done.

I'm just letting all this wash over me now. I am glad that Joe called before I went into the house. If he hadn't, I think my head would have exploded when I saw nothing was done. And I'm not freaking out about this now because I spoke with my real estate agent last week and learned she will be vacationing in Mexico until this Friday, so it's not like I'm gonna get the place listed before then anyway.

I did have some warning that the job wasn't finished when I pulled up this morning - the trailer full of old cabinets and toilets was still sitting in the driveway. Once again, I am amazed at the stuff people want. There was a business card stuck in the door asking if I was going to throw out all the stuff on the trailer and, if so, could I call this guy and give it to him. I left the card in the door in case Joe wants to give the stuff away.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Cabinet Update

I ran over to the house at lunch today to check it out. The kitchen cabinets are in on the bottom. A couple of them still need doors attached and the drawers need to be put in. The uppers are still not in and the countertops are not in. The bathroom vanities are also not in. There is a trailer in the driveway filled with the old cabinets, toilets, and other stuff waiting to get hauled away. I called Joe again and asked how everything could be done on the weekend. He said he is personally making the adjustments on some cabinets (they didn't fit right before), and once that is done, they just hang up real quick. He also said the vanities just drop in too, so they don't take long to install. He tells me if I show up there at 6 AM on Monday, everything will be done. We shall see.

I did notice my handyman got the new flooring and toilets installed in the bathrooms. I haven't heard from him yet, so I need to call him and find out what I owe him.

Looks Like Saturday Will Be The Day

I spoke with Joe The Cabinet Guy today. He tells me he is quitting the company he works for because they are so bad, but he promised me though that he would get my job finished first. He said it wouldn't be today, but it would be tomorrow because he's not coming back on Monday. He said the company still hasn't come and hauled away the trailer of trash (old cabinets and toilets) that he loaded up. So we hung up and a few minutes later he called me said and said: "I'm not going to say I love you because that's not socially acceptable, but I do appreciate all your patience." I informed him my patience was about to run out. Anyway, I just thought that was an interesting thing to say.

I'm going to swing by the place this afternoon at lunch and see what it looks like now. I'm a bit worried because if he doesn't get this done, I'm kinda screwed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Slowest Installation In History

I called Joe and he was at the property installing the cabinets. Still. I don't know what he was doing all day Friday and Monday, but apparently it wasn't finishing my job. Anyway, he said he was installing the remainder of the cabinet bases now. Next comes the countertops, then the upper cabinets in the kitchen. He did mention my handyman was there working on the toilet (that just doesn't sound right...) but they would not be in each other's way. This is good news for two reasons: the first, obviously, is that they won't be in each other's way :-) But the second is that this provides proof that Joe is actually working at the house. I did not tell Joe about the handyman doing some additional work, so the only way he would know is if he was there and ran into him. It's sad when you don't trust what your contractors are telling you, but this is the position Joe has put me in. The estimated cabinet completion date is tomorrow, but who knows when it will actually be. I fully expect to have Joe tell me that the bathroom cabinets will be delayed because the handyman is putting down new flooring. (Although, if he's working on the toilets now, I would think he already put down the new flooring.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Few More Repairs

Yesterday, I decided to make a few more repairs: replacing the two toilets and putting down new linoleum in the bathrooms and a few other places in the house. The toilets are dirty and have black stains at the bottom of the bowl that I doubt even serious scrubbing will remove. And while they technically work, they work in more of a "barely working" type of fashion. My home inspector did not mention them in his report, but I figure another inspector might. I previously talked about the drip in the master bathroom and, while there was no damage in that room, some water must have seeped under the wall to the other bathroom (they are back-to-back) and caused two of the tiles in there to curl up.

My concern is that the new bathroom vanities with the new sinks will really cause the old toilets to stick out. I figure there's a 50-50 chance an inspector would flag the toilets and / or there is a good possibility a buyer would ask me to replace them anyway. And since the toilets are coming out, I might as well take the opportunity to replace the outdated linoleum. In addition to the bathrooms, there is linoleum in a couple closets and in a small area at the entryway. The linoleum pattern in those places is quite dated too. I think it would be better to present a new look to potential buyers throughout the entire house rather than have it look like the rehabber ran out of money or replaced stuff haphazardly. That could translate to a higher selling price.

I considered just offering a couple hundred dollars to the buyer for a flooring and toilet allowance, but I tried the allowance route on the last house I sold. The buyer didn't accept it and I had to fix the stuff anyway. I'd rather get the items replaced now while there is no close of escrow deadline looming over me.

Total cost for these repairs shouldn't be too high. Toilets run about $65 each. Altogether, I figure there is less than 75 square feet of linoleum that needs to be replaced, so that won't be too much. My biggest concern is that the repairs will mean more delays before I can get the house listed. But the cabinet guy is still there working on connecting plumbing today and I am going to be out of town tomorrow through Monday, so nothing really will be happening until next week anyway.

I called my handyman and asked how soon he could get all this stuff done. He said he could start Monday and would be finished by Wednesday. Perfect! I was thinking about offering him an extra $100 if he could be done by Wednesday, but now I don't have to! So I'm looking at maybe an extra 1 or 2 day delay in listing the property.

Although the delay isn't that great, I am still kicking myself. When I look back over this whole project, I can see I've really done stuff serially instead of in parallel, which has cost me at least a couple weeks. This was mainly because I did not have a firm picture of everything I wanted done. The cabinets were something of an afterthought. I should have had made up my mind to replace them and had them ordered even before my handyman started working. The bathrooms and linoleum were items I was on the fence about replacing. I thought they should be replaced, but I got worried about the amount of money I was putting into the place. (The $2,000 aluminum wiring correction was an unexpected expense.) Those items should have been on my handyman's initial fix list. This is a perfect example of one of my favorite phrases: "Oh man! Not another learning experience!"

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Can It Be True? Are The Cabinets Installed?

Well, no, the cabinets are not installed. But they are being put in as I type!

I went down to the property Sunday morning, thinking I would see at least some stuff installed, based on a couple phone calls I had with Joe on Wednesday and Friday. When I got there, the old cabinets were still in the driveway and there was nothing inside. Hmm. Quite the disappointment. I also noticed that one of the water lines in the master bathroom (which was disconnected when the old cabinets were removed) was dripping, so there was a small puddle on the floor. Joe had left some big moving pads on the carpet to protect it, so I pulled those over to soak up the water. The water line to the house was turned off, so I'm not sure why it was dripping.

Since I was there, I also replaced a thermostat cover that got lost somewhere along the way. This cover, the little circular beige piece of plastic that goes around the dial on a round thermostat, is probably the most expensive piece of plastic I've ever bought. They aren't sold separately, so I had to buy a whole new thermostat in order to get that piece. The cheapest one, a thermostat that only controls a heater, was $30.

So this morning I called Joe and got a status report. He was at the house and was busy installing the cabinets. He's got the dishwasher and stove back in place, with the cabinet corner units in. He mentioned the dripping water (which I did not bring up) and said one of "my guys" must have turned the water on. I told him he is the last guy I'm waiting on and no one else has been in the house. So he kinda took it in stride (realizing it must have been his error) and said there was "more water than he liked" in the bathroom, but he's cleaning it up. I know it wasn't flooded or anything, so I'm not too concerned. It just has to dry before he installs the bathroom cabinets. He said he should be done with everything tomorrow and that if I wanted to come by and check it out, I could. He suggested coming either late today or early tomorrow, since most of the stuff will be in by then. I think tomorrow he will mostly be doing plumbing work.

He mentioned something about the cabinet doors not being done, so he had to get them from somewhere else. I think this is crap because he told me he had the doors in his possession about a week ago (or he was lying then), but at this point, I don't care. I won't be using this guy again and the things are finally being installed. Joe did mention that I would be very pleased with the cabinets. He upgraded me from the standard white laminate ones I ordered to oak. I think when he originally quoted the job, oak cabinets were $400 more.

So I think I'll be swinging by the house tomorrow sometime. I'm not sure if I will go in the morning or wait until the end of the day, when he's done.

Just got a call from him asking how I wanted the vanity counters. In the original configuration, the vanity counter only extended around the sink and did not extend over the toilet. Since he was asking, I told him I wanted it extended over the toilet in both bathrooms. He said no problem.

The extra month or two that this job has taken is going to really kill my annualized ROI number, but hopefully, it'll still be decent.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sears Sucks

I just had the most frustrating experience dealing with Sears. We've got a Weed Whacker and we need to get more cutting line for it. The unit was given to us by my wife's father and we don't have the manual, so I don't know what size line it needs. There are all kinds of variables - the line diameter, line length, one or two line feeds, etc. I checked, thinking I'd be able to find out this information. No such luck. The model Weed Whacker we have isn't listed. While they do offer spools of line online, they do not tell you which line goes with which model number (or if they do, they only list one model number, probably the newest one). So was unable to help me.

On the Weed Whacker, there is a phone number you can call if you have questions about the unit. So I called and I got transferred to the parts department. My call was answered by Eric. Before I could tell him what I wanted, he requested my name and phone number. I said you don't need that information to answer my question. He said he had to get it to pull up my information. I informed him I bought the unit with cash and there was no record of my purchase. He insisted, so I told him my name was Mr. Smith and my phone number was 480-555-1212. With the formalities out of the way, I told him what I needed. He asked for the Weed Whacker model number, which I gave him. He told me he found the part I needed and I could order it over the phone. I explained I needed it today and didn't have time to wait for it to be shipped. I just wanted the part number. He refused to give me the part number. He asked for my zipcode so he could check inventory at nearby stores and he found two stores that had it in stock. I said "Fine. What is the part number I need to look for when I go there?" Again, he refused to give it to me. He said I needed to give someone there the Weed Whacker model number and they would look it up. At this point, I asked to speak to his supervisor and he hung up on me.

So I called back. Once again, I got to the parts department and asked to speak to a supervisor. Patricia came on the line and I explained what just happened. She said Sears doesn't train it's employees to hang up on people (that's nice to know) and she got my model number and again looked up the info about the line. She also refused to give me the part number. She said part numbers change, which is why they don't give them out. Since I was going to buy the part today, I suggested it was highly unlikely the part number would change between the time she told it to me and a couple hours later when I went to the store to pick it up. Nevertheless, she refused to give it to me. Furthermore, she wouldn't even give me any information about the part, such as the line diameter, which I might be able to use to find the part myself. I told her she was most unhelpful and I would never be shopping at Sears again.

This is most unfortunate. I cannot believe that this type of anti-customer attitude exists today. I will go to Sears today and buy the replacement line, but I will note all the details about it and from this day forward, purchase it elsewhere. I have always bought major appliances at Sears - my washer and dryer are Kenmores, I have a Sears water softener, and I have many Craftsman tools. But given this kind of service, I don't think I'll be buying their stuff anymore.

Oh, and by the way, when I get back from the store, I'll have the below information filled in:

Sears Weed Whacker model number 358.799000 uses replacement line part number 7185837. This is a 30 foot long, 0.065 diameter line on a spool.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Another Cashflow Day

Yesterday I received a payment check from Google Ads for $130.00. This brings the total I have received from them to $255.00 over about 9 months. Thanks to all the blog readers who made it possible by clicking on the ads!

Cabinets Coming Along (Finally)

It's been a while since my last update. I've been pretty busy with non-REI stuff and had some guests for the holidays, so there wasn't much free time. We've also got a weekend trip to Las Vegas coming up soon, so we're getting ready for that. And my wife had her purse stolen out of her car while she dropped our daughter off at daycare, so we had to go through the whole process of canceling credit cards, getting new ones, getting a new driver's license, etc. The police found the purse (and our daughter's diaper bag, which was also stolen), but the wallet was missing. The thieves dumped them in a trash can on a farm, so they reeked of manure. There are some leads, so there is a chance the thieves might get caught. Apparently, daycare centers are one of the places thieves target since parents, usually women, know they will be inside for just a short time and they usually leave their purses in the car while they run in to drop their kid off. If they don't see the woman carry a purse in, they go check out the car. Something to keep in mind.

Last week, the cabinet guy told me the cabinets would not be in by whatever the latest deadline he gave me was - I can't even keep them straight anymore. But later in the week, he told me the cabinet doors were done and in his possession and he should have everything done by this Friday, June 3. I just got off the phone with him this morning and he confirmed everything is on track and stuff is being installed and we are looking good to be done by Friday. I'll believe it when I see it...

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